Vietnamese Cooking from the Heart: Priscilla Raines

May 07, 2024

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We’re exploring cultural and heritage traditions through the eyes of our Associates. Meet Priscilla Raines, a senior account manager on the hospitality team for Foodbuy and a member of the Compass family for nearly a decade.

“I am Vietnamese American. My maiden name is Vivi, which is Vietnamese for martial arts warrior. Both my parents were born in Vietnam. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi. I’ve lived in the South my entire life.

Tết or Lunar New Year, is my favorite holiday. It’s a huge celebration that usually falls between January 21 and February 21. It lasts anywhere from a couple of days to up to 16 days. We celebrate every single year with my family – I have 33 aunts and uncles!

“Growing up, we would return to New Orleans, which has a massive Tết festival that includes so much food, the Dragon dance and, of course, fireworks. There’s different reasons why the Dragon dances – essentially, it’s to bring in the New Year on a good note and symbolizes happiness and prosperity. There’s usually two to three people beneath the beautiful and elaborate Dragon costume and they dance to the beat of the drum.

“Before the Dragon comes on, there are fan dancers. I was one of the fan dancers when I was in middle school. We had our fans and we did a dance wearing traditional Vietnamese dress called áo dài.

“I don’t have any photos of these or other memories from the first 18 years of my life. In 1995, during my senior year of high school, Hurricane Katrina struck up and down the Gulf Coast. My entire family – all 33 and aunts and uncles – were affected by the devastation. My family had no home to go to. All we had left were the front steps that walked up to nothing. I literally had just the clothes on my back and an overnight bag. That was it. Everything else – photos, family mementos, jewelry, anything from my parents – gone! It put a lot of things into perspective. I don’t hang on to much now; once you’ve lost it all, you know what’s important.

“For major holidays and my daughter’s birthdays, my husband and I focus on experiences. We take a lot of trips. You can work hard and buy stuff, but then the experiences, they last forever.

“My parents owned one of the very first Asian convenience stores in the area where we grew up. They were young and opening a new business and trying to find a way to stand out. My mom painted the convenience store pink – and it was a big hit. I’m a huge advocate for the color pink! To this day, people still remember the pink convenience store. Unfortunately, it’s no longer standing because of Katrina.

“One of the biggest things I hold near and dear to my heart, especially being a Vietnamese American, is our food. I absolutely love all the food, especially egg rolls. My parents owned a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho, a family restaurant in downtown Ocean Springs, Mississippi. When I think about it, I picture myself in the kitchen watching my dad cook wonderful Vietnamese cuisine. He was considered a top Vietnamese chef in the Biloxi and Ocean Springs area. We always had really good food on the table.

“My dad had a secret egg roll recipe that only I and a couple other people were privileged enough to actually see. But there were no measurements. My dad cooked from the heart. ‘You just got to feel it,’ he used to say. My brother, sister and I, we’re all getting the same cooking tutorial growing up. We were like, ‘Let’s be honest, how do you feel a cup? If it’s not a cup, it’s not a measurement!’

“Now that I’m older, I understand what he meant. I’m not a huge chef, but because of my dad I know what it feels like cooking from the heart.”